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OpenBSD Activism Shows Drivers Can Be Freed

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the mindshare-will-follow dept.

BSD 213

grey writes "The Age has a story up about how the OpenBSD community has been contacting wireless chipset vendors to license their firmware binaries under terms that would allow for free redistribution. This is important, because even with existing GPL and BSD licensed drivers for these chipsets, the drivers don't function without first loading onerously licensed firmware binaries which can only be acquired from the vendor, not shipped by an OSS provider." (Read more, below.)

grey continues "This means that currently, these wireless NIC's don't work out of the box on OSS install or boot media. In just the first 4 days, hundreds of users wrote and called vendors, and already 2 vendors freed their firmware, and several others are in discussions with Theo de Raadt about taking similar steps.

We need your help! TI has still not responded at all. You can call or write to Bill Carney, - Director of Business Development of TI's WNBU to add to the approximately 400 well written messages the OpenBSD community has already sent to TI. We hope that you'll help, and if you do please keep messages polite and to the point. Please remember, we are not asking for the vendors to open source their firmware under the GPL or BSD licenses (though we wouldn't complain if they did). Instead, ask if they would simply email Theo to open discussions on licensing their firmware binaries under terms that allow for free redistribution. If changed, these firmware binaries would then be able to be included with OSS software and function with existing BSD and GPL licensed device drivers from the start.

You can find other contacts for target vendors here, here, here, and here, and it can't hurt to sign this petition. These changes aide all OSS efforts, not just OpenBSD. As you can see from the OpenBSD community's results already, contacting these vendors really does make a difference. We're sure that with the numbers of OSS minded readers in the Slashdot community you can really help with the heavy lifting where fewer numbers of BSD users have already begun to succeed, and all Open Source Software users will benefit."

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First Fuckhole (0, Offtopic)

Fecal Troll Matter (445929) | more than 9 years ago | (#10693984)

It's right here. Spread, juicy, and ripe. Accepting all comers...

NIGGER NATE LOVES OPENBSD (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10693999)

guys i heard nigger nate is crazy about openbsd activism!

If you love your driver (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694021)

You must set it free.

Re:If you love your driver (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694333)

Join us now and share the firmware...

tp! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694031)

Lets all work together to get rid of muslims.

Sure, they'll free them (0, Troll)

Decapitees For Bush (824317) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694041)

and then put them in jail.

Bahh (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694044)

Bahh. What about when we have cases of driver hooks being yanked from the kernel simly because of inflated egos? (I.e. PWC/PWCX)

Re:Bahh (3, Insightful)

erikharrison (633719) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694455)

Then you have a seperate issue, with a seperate OS, with a seperate developer, with a different kind of hardware.

PWC hooks in the Linux kernel were hooks that were removed as part of a standard kernel policy, after the driver had fallen under the radar for some time, and that hook was specifically designed to extend the capabilities of working hardware in a way which was legally fishy.

This is the issue of going to a vendor for the licence to redistribute firmware which already has a generic kernel hook for being loaded and will not initialize with said firmware.

Or are you just being crabby?

Re:Bahh (4, Insightful)

ComputerSlicer23 (516509) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694669)

Oddly enough, what this is doing, is precisely the way that the PWC/PWCX should be handled. He could have easily started shipping a module that was compiled out of tree, or as a patch, then no GPL violations happened (if you compile your own and don't distribute, there's literally nothing that is illegal you can do, it's only at the point that you distribute binaries that you get into trouble). He could have designed the other module to merely hook into it if it was loaded as opposed to designing it to require a function pointer. That was where it all went so badly wrong. If the binary only module was loaded inplace of the GPL'ed version it would have been fine. The problem was that the GPL'ed one was runtime linking to non-GPL'ed code. The code he was putting into the binary only version was clearly developed independently of Linux in the same fashion that the NVidia driver was (it was used in a different OS first, and it used essetially the same interface to the kernel as userspace does, thus passing Linus's criteria for not being a derived work).

The problem was that there was a hook there that had the sole purpose of explicitly violating the GPL. Here, the firmware isn't linking with the GPL'ed code. So it's all good. This is uploading firmware from userspace via the kernel. Requiring it to be GPL'ed is like requiring that the files I read and write be GPL'ed because they passed thru the kernel.

The firmware loading is there to resolve several pseudo GPL violations (I believe Adaptec has long strings of stuff that is a binary code that gets loaded into the firmware that people claim "we should have the source"). I've always held the believe that that code is not linking with the GPL'ed code, it is merely data as far as the kernel is concerned (you don't have to GPL the constants you use in drivers). While the firmware is intersting and it's plausible that OSS could improve it, it just saves the costs of burning a ROM in case there are bugs that have to be fixed.

This all came up not that long ago and was a possibly blocking problem with the next debian release, but they choose to overlook the problem. The firmware loading is clever because it solves several problems, and is more flexible, and moves the problem outside of the kernel, and turns it into a data problem, not a code problem.

Kirby

Why NOT? (5, Insightful)

TexasDex (709519) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694065)

Really. I never understood the reason for such restrictive licenses on drivers. I could distribute the drivers far and wide, but without buying the company's hardware (read: paying them money) they are really really useless.

So why do companies have a problem with free driver distribution?

Re:Why NOT? (3, Insightful)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694089)

They don't want you getting a driver from some shady site that put a virus in it, and thus giving their company a bad name (at least for dumb-computer-users).

Re:Why NOT? (4, Insightful)

Coneasfast (690509) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694128)

They don't want you getting a driver from some shady site that put a virus in it, and thus giving their company a bad name (at least for dumb-computer-users).

1) most people should know to download drivers from the computer manufacturer / device manufacturer. and if someone wanted to do that, they could without having the source code, just have to put a virus in the installer or reverse engineer the code.

2) i don't think this is the issue here, look how many drivers are in the BSD/linux source code, has this really become a problem? no. will it ever? probably not.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

bob beta (778094) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694319)

People talk all the time about getting Operating System ISOs from BitTorrent and other means, where compromised drivers could be included.

Sure, there are security measures that could be taken, but many people are lax about that kind of thing.

The same can be said about non-Free software acquired through dubious or third-party means, and often is.

Re:Why NOT? (4, Informative)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694945)

Remember:

Bittorrent is no different than, say, HTTP when it comes to this sort of thing.

If you're bittorrenting down a ISO from, say, the Knoppix official tracker - You know it's fine - same as if you downloaded it by HTTP from the same site.

Now if you're randomly downloading stuff from Hack-My-Computer.com, that's a different issue.

Re:Why NOT? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694490)

1) most people should know to download drivers from the computer manufacturer / device manufacturer. and if someone wanted to do that, they could without having the source code, just have to put a virus in the installer or reverse engineer the code.

I'm not disagreeing with things here, but that's not always the way people do it, at least with Windows.

I have seen this first hand. The not-very-enlightened of the Windows world, when they "need a driver" (even if the hardware is already working) go to google and usually type "driver [hardware name]" or "find my driver for my sound card".

This then gives them a wonderful list of web sites which are NOT the manufacturer, and have drivers that undoubtedly are of questionable origin. I've even seen them install software (spyware) which even said it wasn't the driver, but if they installed it *it* would find the driver for them. Spyware makers are some sneaky pricks.

Re:Why NOT? (3, Informative)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694166)

But thats the whole point. By including the drivers in the operating system distrobution, you can ensure hardware is at least usable at plug in time WITHOUT having to go onto some dodgy site.

Re:Why NOT? (2, Insightful)

MBCook (132727) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694117)

Here is my guess, as always, IANALBIPOOSD (IANAL but I play one on /.).

Legal stuff always tries to reserve as many rights as possible for the company, so when they came up with the license for the drivers they came up with a license that gave almost no rights to people (as licenses usually seem to do). And that's the way it's been for a long time because, untill now, no one needed that ability. I mean other than with OSS (IE in the Windows, DOS, or Mac worlds) what reasons would anyone have for wanting to be able to distribute a tiny part of a driver (the firmware) without the rest of the driver for free? The only times I ever saw drivers given out (other than with hardware) was on CDs that game with magazines (so you could get the lastest that way) but then they include the full driver anyway.

Basically, no one cared before now, so there was no reason to give it to people. Now people want it, and I see no reason why there shouldn't give it up (it's not like we're asking to have it open sourced or the rights to dissassemble it or anything).

Re:Why NOT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694625)

You had me at I ANAL BI POO /.
Reason: Don't use so many caps.

Re:Why NOT? (5, Insightful)

cmowire (254489) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694146)

A variety of reasons, and there's probably a bunch more that I'm not aware of:
  • Legal counsel decides it's a bad idea because it could expose them to liability
  • It really does expose them to liability. For example, you could exceed FCC restrictions on the ISM bands by programming your card to emit more power than it should on frequencies it's not allowed in the US to be in.
  • They are selling the same hardware as three different products with only the drivers different.
  • You could make a linux-based device cheaper than their stand-alone equivelent.
  • There are bits of licensed code in the driver that aren't theirs to give out.
  • They are using a reference design and the driver contains features unique to their product. If they let the driver out, people will be able to buy the cheaper implementation of the same reference design and get those features.

Re:Why NOT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694311)

As far as I can see, the parent isn't saying that they should open source the drivers, just that the binaries should be freely distributable. If that's the case, your arguments doesn't apply. :)

Re:Why NOT? (2, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694324)

Also:
  • They are using unlicensed code, i.e. code that they shouldn't.

Re:Why NOT? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694429)

Hi!

Yes, well that's the slashbot conspiracy theorist answer.

In reality, most companies pay people to produce drivers. The smart ones realize that drivers are a part of the whole experience and seek to further differentiate their offerings from those of their competitors with good software. When there is money to be made by open sourcing drivers (i.e. when it helps sells hardware in numbers that matter) it will happen.

Until then it is too easy to dismiss the whole open source community as whiny cretins who have no appreciation of the process and who don't spend enough money to matter - like you.

Cheers,
GNU/Wolfgang

Re:Why NOT? (4, Insightful)

Bastian (66383) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694731)

While I agree that most of those are good reasons, I must say that I think that something is terribly wrong with the legal system if the vendor can be liable for my intentional misuse of their product.

I envision a similar situation in which Detroit gets sued because they are liable for a person's speeding ticket. Only the person had to override some sort of speed limiter device in order to do it.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694928)

While I agree that most of those are good reasons, I must say that I think that something is terribly wrong with the legal system if the vendor can be liable for my intentional misuse of their product.

Lawsuits claiming firearms manufacturers are liable for murderer's actions comes to mind. To quote Steve Dallas: "America: Land of the Lawsuit"!!

Re:Why NOT? (1)

Kartoch (38254) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694944)

An other tricky thing: vendors force the people who want the firmware to go the website of the company and to be registered. For instance, firmware for speedtouch modem (but you can easily give a false address, as no check is performed).

Re:Why NOT? (1)

chochos (700687) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695075)

Two things:
(1)You're talking about drivers. The petition is about the firmware.
(2)Most of the reasons you mention are valid reasons for not opening the firmware source. That is not what is being asked. Just the license. In other words, to get permission from the manufacturers to freely redistribute the firmware BINARY. I don't see how you could exceed FCC restrictions if you can't modify the firmware because you don't have the source.

Re:Why NOT? (1, Insightful)

ewhac (5844) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695207)

A variety of reasons, and there's probably a bunch more that I'm not aware of:

And most of the ones you cited are complete bunk. To wit:

* Legal counsel decides it's a bad idea because it could expose them to liability

Liability for what, exactly? This bogeyman is often trotted out, but only in the vaguest sense. The only concrete example offered thus far is the potential for lawsuits owing to frivolous patents. Sounds to me, then, like a reason to agitate for patent reform rather than screw your userbase. Argument weak.

* It really does expose them to liability. For example, you could exceed FCC restrictions on the ISM bands by programming your card to emit more power than it should on frequencies it's not allowed in the US to be in.

That's not the fault of the manufacturer, that's the fault of the guy driving the HW out of spec, and the FCC will go after him first. If it's later discovered that the HW itself should have enforced those limits, well, that's a separate discussion. Argument invalid.

* They are selling the same hardware as three different products with only the drivers different.

This has always been a completely bullshit way to differentiate between "products", and anyone who does this should be thumped over the head. Argument invalid.

* You could make a linux-based device cheaper than their stand-alone equivelent.

And so also could the vendor. And since all the driver-writing expertise already resides under his roof, he already has all the competetive advantage that he needs to stay ahead. Argument invalid.

* There are bits of licensed code in the driver that aren't theirs to give out.

This is the first valid reason you've offered. However, as an OEM, you really should be thinking much more carefully before agreeing to such terms. You could be shutting yourself off from a lucrative market.

* They are using a reference design and the driver contains features unique to their product. If they let the driver out, people will be able to buy the cheaper implementation of the same reference design and get those features.

Then why weren't you, the vendor, doing this in the first place? Frankly, I'm not interested in compensating for a vendor's lack of business acumen. Argument invalid.

Schwab

Re:Why NOT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10695472)

OMFG! You're such an asshole! Argument invalid.

Re:Why NOT? (2, Insightful)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694155)

I think the real concern of the companies is that often drivers contain lots of information about the architecture of the hardware, that if it were to fall into "enemy hands" would compromise valuable IP assets that are likely trade secrete rather than patented.
I know this to be the case where I work.
-nB

Re:Why NOT? (3, Insightful)

technoid_ (136914) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694295)

Because we all know the competition could never go out and buy the product and get the driver from the included CD, or just download it from the manufacturer's site.

The consumer might as well be considered enemy hands.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694425)

Because we all know the competition could never go out and buy the product and get the driver from the included CD, or just download it from the manufacturer's site.
I'll bite the flamebait (That or you are ignorant of the way the real world works :p ):
The perception of the companies is that to be in an OSS distribution you must include the *source* of the firmware. A simple binary download does very little to help the competition, a source library, however, tells volumes. Devs tend to use names and structures that "make sense" in the context of the hardware in question. Add to that the specific algorithms being used to program and/or configure the device along with the comments in the source and you have a goldmine of information.

The consumer might as well be considered enemy hands.
You are correct, sir.
-nB

Re:Why NOT? (1)

TCM (130219) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694589)

A simple binary download does very little to help the competition, a source library, however, tells volumes.

But this is not about source at all! It's not about drivers, it's about firmware binaries which get uploaded by the driver and are never available as source. All they asked was for those binaries to be redistributable, not to open source them.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

minaguib (591953) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694886)

Possibly a newbie question:

Why would such firmware be available in the driver to be uploaded to the chipset every time, instead of being copied once to a re-writeable ROM on the hardware somewhere ?

Re:Why NOT? (1)

808140 (808140) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695357)

Essentially because it's cheaper.

The existance of firmware is nothing new; all those old cards you had had firmware as well, but that firmware was on a flash memory chip on the card, and didn't need to be loaded at boot. But those chips cost money... so, they figured out that you can save a few bucks by not including them and instead loading it everytime.

Incidentally, ROM stands for Read Only Memory, so rewriteable ROM is something of an oxymoron. But I understood what you meant, I'm just letting you know.

Re:Why NOT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694644)

"often drivers contain lots of information about the architecture of the hardware, that if it were to fall into "enemy hands" would compromise valuable IP assets"

Lemme guess - the recuitment dept. think that if anyone saw your source-code, they wouldn't want to work at that company?

Re:Why NOT? (1)

Geoffreyerffoeg (729040) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694165)

Actually, this is the best method of copyright protection; I think an appropriate name would be the "reverse dongle" approach. The value for you is in the hardware device, which follows traditional economic rules. The software is only for enabling the device - it does nothing else, and nothing else does so. Thus, the software can be licensed freely.

A company who can master this should never have a problem with software piracy. If someone makes a clone of the hardware, that's either a patent infringement (not copyright), and more traceable, or it's legitimate competition. We can only trade software easily because it's trivial to copy. Copiers of the hardware must at least break even.

Well its pretty simple for some drivers (1)

otlg (803177) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694179)

Certain drivers, i.e. video cards, can contain a number of pieces of proprietary information that give one company a leg up on the other (for example software optimizations, like NVidia's GPU JIT compiler)

I can understand why they wouldn't want to give away their competitive advantage.

Now other drives (network cards for example) I see no reason to not open source it.

Re:Well its pretty simple for some drivers (1)

networkBoy (774728) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694467)

"I can understand why they wouldn't want to give away their competitive advantage.

Now other drives (network cards for example) I see no reason to not open source it."

For the very same reason. Just because you arent the high visibility of top end video cards doesn't mean there arent "trade secrets" in your sourcecode.
Do you think 3Com wants to share IP with Cisco? (or Vice versa)
-nB

Re:Why NOT? (1, Redundant)

Apreche (239272) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694185)

Let's use nvidia as the example because it is easy. Nvidia as a company has no real opposition to making their drivers open source. In fact, I bet that a lot of people working there want to make the graphics drivers open. But they can't or they will go out of business.

Why is this? Well let's look at the competition, which is ATI. Hardware wise ATI is NVidia's equal. If you look at the big picture ATI vs. NVidia the hardware is equivalent between the two vendors. Sure at any given point in time one of them might have a more powerful chip. But the other always counters with better pricing back and forth until the end of days.

The reason that Nvidia has a slight edge is drivers. In windows the Nvidia drivers are god. Sure, the ATI drivers work, but in terms of stability, number of features and correct functioning of features NVidia 0wnz ATI. Hands down. And in terms of Linux support ATI is a joke . I specifically purchased Nvidia only because of their awesome linux driver.

Now. If Nvidia open sourced its drivers you know what would happen? ATI would look at the code and learn how to make better drivers. Then the ATI driver would be just as good if not better than the NVidia. Linux users wouldn't choose nvidia because of better support because ATI would be a reasonable alternative.

The reason drivers for other things arne't given away are similar. It's not that they care so much about the customer being able to use the hardware. In fact, they want as many people as possible to be able to use their hardware. They keep drivers closed so that they can have one thing that seperates them from the competition.

Re:Why NOT? (3, Informative)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694416)

I agreed with this until the 4th paragraph. NVidia can't open their drivers because they have code in it licensed from other people whose IP they use. It's that simple. The actual architecture for the driver is relatively easy to discern if you look at their distribution, the only thing that's hidden is the code that actually talks to the board.

These other drivers are hidden because companies have just always done it that way. Why should they change things? It's always worked before. They don't realize that the community will help them greatly if they open things up a bit. It's old-world versus new-world, and it's just taking some time to get old-world to come around.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

Mr Smidge (668120) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694216)

A few reasons:

* Preventing unofficial driver releases, the shortcomings of which may be blamed on the hardware maker by lesser-informed people.

* Some drivers really are quite complicated. Take graphics card drivers, for instance. NVidia are constantly coming up with newer versions that increase performance, as they discover new optimisations and so on.

* The old corporate mentality that one should never divulge any secrets, especially when they're full of complicated information (see previous point) that could be sold for a price to other companies.

* The drivers may imploy legally-encumbered procedures, such as patented algorithms (shudder), or trade secrets, or reveal details of hardware that would normally only be available under NDA.

But of course, the last few of these reasons are a load of shite, and ideally we'd all have openly-documented hardware, and hence nice open-source drivers for everything.

Keep badgering the hardware vendors: something will eventually happen (as shown by this story!).

Re:Why NOT? (5, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694273)

Dude, note that this is for FIRMWARE, not drivers. Big difference.

Hardware used to do things using discrete transistors, resistors, diodes, etc. These days most of that (and more) can be done better in high-density logic devices. But the "top of the line" high density logic, ASICs, still have too great a startup cost for many companies. Plus, they cannot be field upgraded.

The next best logic, FPGAs, are not hard-coded with the firmware. Instead, they load it from a memory source on the hardware - or they load it from the operating system on boot or plug-in. The advantage of the latter is that you don't have to pay for the EEPROM or flash to store the firmware on board, and updating the firmware is as simple as downloading a new binary to your computer. (Overwriting EEPROM or flash firmware on hardware can be dangerous, as a failure could prevent the hardware from being recognized to try again.)

So, firmware (i.e. code for the hardware) ships with the software driver, but is separate from it. Your next question will be: Why don't they open-source their firmware, too?

And the answer here is simple. They have to pay someone to design that firmware, lay out the PCB, spec in parts and materials, and then provide hardware to build those units. If their firmware is available to all, then someone else can take that code, copy their PCB, and produce the exact same board except with no overhead of R&D. Heck, they could even provide (under the table) vendor and device information so that it looked exactly like the primary company's product, would work with their driver, etc.

Why would any company want to do that? One of the early competitors of my company, 15 years or so ago when we used TTL parts, copied the entire product exactly. Reverse engineered the PCB. Then ran advertisements showing the two boards side-by-side, explaining how they were identical except that theirs cost less because they have no research overhead.

So, of course, my company leveraged its research "overhead" to produce a better, faster product that also happened to not be so easily copied. This resulted in our first ASIC. There is no way that we or most other existing hardware companies would return to the days where anyone can copy their products.

Re:Why NOT? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694513)

Dude, this article is about -licensing- the firmware in such a way that it can be shipped by OSS vendors - NOT about Open Sourcing it (quote: "Please remember, we are not asking for the vendors to open source their firmware under the GPL or BSD licenses"). Stop trying to answer a question no one was asking, you're either making yourself look foolish or intentionally misleading people when you do such things.

Anyone who wanted to reverse engineer the firmware would have just as tough a time doing it _now_ as they would if the firmware was able to be shipped on a knoppix or OpenBSD CD instead of downloading it from a website with an Intel licensing splash page.

You have some worthwhile points and you explain the distinction between drivers and firmware well, but your argument and company's experience is not relevant in this instance. Getting companies like TI and Intel to license their firmware in a way that allows for other vendors to provide it out of the box is just going to help users - other companies which might be helped or hindered by open sourced firmware will be completely unaffected, because the challenge will remain the same as it is now.

Let's take that intellect and argumentative skills and point it at contacts for TI and intel instead of veering off course.

Re:Why NOT? (1)

Kupek (75469) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694521)

I might be missing something in your explanation, but the poster was not calling for the firmware to be open source, but that the license for the binaries be changed so that they can be redistributed (with, say, a Linux distribution).

Re:Why NOT? (1)

perlchild (582235) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694314)

The excuse most heard in graphics drivers is that having a driver would allow a rival company to reverse engineer the special magic that makes the hardware special. I'm not sure it applies here, but the pointy-haired mentality is known to be aggregative.

Re:Why NOT? (3, Informative)

amorsen (7485) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694328)

This article isn't about drivers. It is about firmware.

You're right, there's no reason. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694340)

I don't understand it either. That said, at least in the case of Intel - GPL and BSD licensed drivers are already out there which allow for free redistribution, but they don't function without the firmware loaded first. Firmware historically is something that would be written to flash memory on the device in question so this was never an issue - license it however you want, it only moves with the physical hardware. Since vendors are now cheaping out and using firmware binaries loaded by the driver, they've turned a hardware design & licensing issue into a software design and licensing issue. They wouldn't have this problem with a traditional hardware design, and the OSS community wouldn't have to be contacting people to make this point clear.

So let's get writing and calling!

Open-source platform support can mean big money (1)

tachyonflow (539926) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694602)

In some cases involving multimedia hardware, it is in a hardware manufacturer's best interest to withhold information and support for open-source platforms. In the absence of free software support for their hardware, they can charge very large sums of money for driver software and support to consumer electronics manufacturers with deep pockets. (Open source platforms such as Linux and BSD are extremely popular in the consumer electronics world.)

I've personally seen this happen. :/

Re:Why NOT? (5, Informative)

RedLeg (22564) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694837)

So why do companies have a problem with free driver distribution?

A: In the case of wireless, the FCC plays a part.

An 802.11 Wireless Card is a software controlled radio, and must be licensed per FCC regs (in the USA, your country's rules might be different). Since the 802.11 PHY operates over several channels within the specified band, it must be able to select and switch between these channels via software, and to adjust its transmit power for optimum performance based on the changes in temperature of the transmitter, and changes in the frequency, among other things.

But different regulatory domains (countries) allow different channels within the bands, meaning a card in the US may be able to operate on a channel in the B band which is not licensed for another country, or vice versa. This is particularly true in the A band, where a whole middle "chunk" is not legal for use in the US.

Bottom line is that in order for the producer to get a license for the radio (and trust me, you do NOT want it to be the case that you, the operator, have to secure that license), he is NOT ALLOWED to expose the controls for power, et al, to the end user.

Now, if the driver / firmware (distinction / similarity discussed elsewhere in the thread) is open source, then by definition the controls in question are exposed to the end user. There would be nothing to prevent an end user from operating his card at a higher than legal power, or outside the legal freqs for the local regulatory domain.

NOW, all that being said, that is not to say that SOME hardware manufacturers haven't tried to do the right thing, and strike a compromise.

The MAD-WiFi Project http://sourceforge.net/projects/madwifi [sourceforge.net] , (FAQ here [clara.co.uk] ) produces an open driver for the cards with Atheros chipsets. The bulk of the code is open, and under a good license. To meet the FCC requirements, they implement the "required to be secret" controls in a binary-only Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL), but the rest of the code is open, free for you to read and modify.

And it works. I'm typing this through a Netgear card, running the MAD-WiFi driver (with TKIP encryption, IEEE 802.11i 4-way handshake and authentication handled by wpa_supplicant) on Gentoo Linux.

Credit is due to Sam Lefler and most importantly to Greg Chesson (of Atheros). Yes, it's that [google.com] Greg Chesson, the same one mentioned of late by Rob Pike in his recent ./ interview.

Note that, AFAICT, all of this happened without Theo de Raadt pimping around or making an ass of himself, as he is want to do. Disclaimer: I lost patience with Theo and TheoBSD a long time ago.

Salient point: (2, Interesting)

Sheetrock (152993) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694074)

Why settle for binary only?

Particularly where OpenBSD is concerned, where every inch of the code has been scrutinized for security holes, encouraging the use and distribution of binary-only drivers sounds like a quick way to lose the status of never having a security hole in the installation. There's got to be a hardware manufacturer that's willing to release source (though the hardware might cost a little more).

Re:Salient point: (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694108)

That is actually a really good point. I am frankly surprised that the people behind OpenBSD would be the ones behind something so risky as to include binary-only device drivers. What happened to the policy of auditing code before it going into the OS?

Re:Salient point: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694250)

Firmware you doofus! FIIIIRRRMMMMWARE!!!!! If you still don't understand, then fucking look it up.

Now, if I could only post this a million more times, maybe you idiots would get it.

Re:Salient point: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694307)

What is firmware?

I thought we were talking about device drivers here...

Re:Salient point: (4, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694113)

*Why settle for binary only?*

because it's doable and reasonable, and most importantly something that the vendors could agree to.

(they don't really lose anything if they allow the binary versions to be distributed along the os's, all they lose is that people won't dl the files from them directly)

Re:Salient point: (3, Informative)

downbad (793562) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694144)

firmware, not drivers. :)

Re:Salient point: (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694191)

Besides "trade secrets" and such, there are other good reasons. First of all, another company could take their hard written code, change it a little, and then add some hardware to get a implementation for next to no investment (compared to the origional company).

But another reason that I've heard of is that many of these are software radios to a degree. This means that you can choose the powerlevel and frequencies and such in the firmware. Among other things this would let them change to the .11G standard after shipping "pre-G" gear. The problem with this is that it would let people modify the gear to work in a way that would violate the laws enforced by the FCC. Giving people the ability to do that could get the company in trouble with the FCC or get the product's license pulled or something like that. In other words parts of it can't be user modifyable to get approval. The other option would be to embed that stuff in hardware, but then it can't be changed easily (right now, for example, you could ship the same gear to numerous countries even if they all use different spectrums for 802.11 because you could change which one to use in the driver).

But as another poster pointed out, there is no real benefit to the companies to giving people the source. 99% of what people want (the thing to just work) would be served by a freely distributable driver (that was closed source).

My 0.02

Re:Salient point: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694493)

Your sig is incorrect: it's Yoda who said that, not Dr. Spock...

Re:Salient point: (1)

Computerguy5 (661265) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695454)

And not only that, it's MR. Spock in Star Trek, not Dr.. Dr. Spock is a human child psychiatrist. Mr. Spock is a Vulcan science officer, and a damn good one too.

Re:Salient point: (1)

Chandon Seldon (43083) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694980)

Long term, it would be nice to have source to this stuff, but the people we need to bug are at the FCC - not at the hardware manufacturer.

Until it's legal to distribute the source for Wireless NIC firmware, bugging the hardware manufacturer for it is just being obnoxious.

Reverse engineering it on the other hand - that's fair game.

Good work. (1, Insightful)

dickeya (733264) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694087)

I'm a little surprised to see that the OpenBSD community is so actively pursuing this, whereas I hear it as an issue for large linux distributions but don't see much being done. I honestly thought the various BSD-type followers were dwindling. It's great to see them working in an area where all open-source type software could use some work.

Parent is a TROLL?????? WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694844)

Why is this a troll? Mods on crack?

Re:Parent is a TROLL?????? WTF (1)

setagllib (753300) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695368)

Not the first - in another thread, a chap was modded troll for what anyone else would clearly find Funny +4 or so. These things happen.

Grandparent (your parent) had misconceptions regarding BSD because he reads too many troll posts, but was surprised to find that they're still pushing the OS [1] industry forward, even with the big companies (the Linux approach has often been to either make the companies your slaves (IBM, SGI, etc) or defeat them outright (Microsoft) - pretty successful strategy I'll admit, but not very good for real-life karma). [1] Open source, Operating system, whichever you think fits more

NDA's are evil (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694093)

imo these restrictive licenses are the last frontier for open source software.

you should NEVER sign an NDA to obtain documentation to write drivers, as the linux people REPEATEDLY do. NDA's are not freedom. When you do this you are saying to the companies 'its ok for you to crap on our ideals and beliefs'

binary firmware may be a grey area here, but notably with the sparc issue i really feel the linux people really let a lot of people down by signing the NDA.

WARNING: Abbreviations may cause infertility. (-1, Troll)

Celestial Avenger (826964) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694094)

So the TI's WNBU in BSD under the GPL BSD OSS HIJKLMNOP? TTYL I'm fuckin' confused LOL BBL KTHXBAI.

Free distribution = Free (3, Interesting)

jmulvey (233344) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694112)

Until an open source hardware manufacturer is sprouted, I can't understand why any for-profit company would license the most difficult part of their design for "free distribution".

I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?

Please sir, if you'd only give me the keys to the kingdom.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694181)

Since they can already download the binaries, what's to keep the knock-off producers from doing it now?

The legitimate manufacturers lose nothing and gain market share by doing this. For a hardware manufacturer, it's a winning proposition.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694221)

You should notice that they are going after the chipset manufacturers, not the card manufacturers.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

temojen (678985) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694223)

I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?

And this would hurt the chipset manufacturer how? The knock-off company would still have to buy the chips from them. That's why they make reference designs .. so other companies can know how to make knock-offs.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694228)

I mean, if they licensed it for free distribution, what would prevent some half-baked Chinese knock off from mass producing the wireless chipset reference design, burning the for-profit's "free" firmware, and selling for a huge profit?
Patents and copyrights? (Patents on the principles of the design, copyrights on those parts of the implementation that are sufficiently creative.)

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

yamla (136560) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694551)

Ha ha ha!

Oh, you were serious? Come on... China doesn't enforce copyright and patent legislation anything _like_ the U.S. does. Just consider, as a single data point, how many pirated copies of Windows exist over there. I'm constantly bombarded with people from China offering the business I work for dubious copies of sewing machines and sergers that we sell already. They are cheaper because they are 'exactly like' the brand-name machines we buy from legitimate manufacturers, but these are manufactured in grey-market factories. And no, they are NOT from the same factory lines as the brand-name machines, we've checked.

Now, that's not to say that not licensing firmware will help prevent knock-offs. Near as I can tell, it wouldn't help at all as really only the binary is what is important, and that's currently distributed by the legitimate manufacturers anyway.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

squiggleslash (241428) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695289)

If China doesn't recognize patents and copyrights, then the whole issue of not GPLing the firmware becomes irrelevent, correct?

Of course, if it comes into the US, all patents and copyrights are enforcable. Any distributor better pay the royalties, or face the legal consequences.

firmware are not the crown jewels (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694245)

The hardware -design- is the "keys to the kingdom" not the firmware, and they're not even asking for the firmware binaries to be open sourced - merely licensed so that they can be distributed freely by OSS vendors. Feels like I'm just quoting the article here, so I guess you might need to reread it more carefully.

If you've dealt with traditional firmware it's called "firm" because it's usually written to a flash memory of some sort on the device (be it CD Burner, NIC, etc.) in this case these vendors are cheaping out on an inexpensive piece of flash memory, and instead designing the 'firmware' to be loaded by the driver, thus unless the driver loads it each time the computer is turned on, then it disappears, it is not static. As such, it makes the hardware utterly useless unless you not only have a device driver, but also this firmware binary loaded. If they had spend a few cents extra and invested in a flash chip that moved with the hardware, this wouldn't be an issue. Instead, they've turned a hardware design issue into a software problem, and if they don't allow for that firmware blob to be redistributed with software drivers (be they proprietary or otherwise) from other vendors - the hardware is useless.

Rather than making a strawman argument about this issue which you didn't take the time to fully understand despite the large amount of text and background links in the story, it would really help everyone if people would write the vendors in question and ask for them to make a minor change. No one is asking them to open their designs a la opencores.org, merely license their firmware blobs in such a way that the firmware can be shipped with other Operating systems that -already- have OSS drivers.

(Going to write and call now instead of waste more breath on slashdot responses)

Re:firmware are not the crown jewels (2, Funny)

xsbellx (94649) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694502)

My God man, this is Slash Dot!

We just cannot allow you to read the article, understand it AND post an eloquent, on-topic response. Please stop this nonsense!

In all seriousness sir/madam, GREAT response!

Re:firmware are not the crown jewels (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10695052)

To be fair, there are advantages to including the firmware with the driver instead of in flash. Primarily, it is much easier to update the firmware in this fashion -- just release a new driver. No worrying about bad flash updates, etc.

Re:Free distribution = Free (1)

Triumph The Insult C (586706) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694264)

well, if they would instead keep the firmware on the card, and not require the driver to load it each time, they wouldn't have that problem

however, for some reason, companies want to hand us shitty hardware and a costs savings of just a few $$/unit. when said unit costs $50+, i'd rather pay the extra $$ for better hardware (read, wireless nics + nvram vs. driver-uploaded firmware; good ole AT modem vs winmodem POS)

Don't chipset firms do most of the driver? (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694271)

IANA Design Engineer, but I would guess that knockoffs wouldn't be that big of a problem. I think that most of the driver work is done by the chipset manufacturer. OEM's don't need to do a whole lot of customization - hence the million and one nVidia video card brands that are available. For instance, I've seen some devices get all of their branding from an .ini file that comes with the install file. Since the Chinese mfg's still need to buy a chipset, and the chipset guys are the primary targets for the driver release (I think), I don't see too much of a problem.

Theo (4, Interesting)

CaptainPinko (753849) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694135)

People have criticised Theo for being agressive and less than baby-ass smooth --hell he got booted from NetBSD for it-- but he's gotten results first with the quality of OpenBSD and now with this. I think he has earned the right be hostile if he wants to- it works.

I wonder if Linus could do something similar to get ATI and NVidia to open up...

Re:Theo (1)

cortana (588495) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694411)

Well, Nvidia's drivers are already redistributable. Would be nice if ATI would do the same. What would be nicer is if ATI would fix their drivers so they can be built against a kernel-headers package instead of a full-blown kernel-source package.

Re:Theo (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694560)

Dude, Linus does absolutly nothing worthwhile - seriously! He might be 'some' Linux Loser people's God for some stupid reason, but I can assure you, he's completely useless...

Re:Theo (2, Informative)

shorti9 (307602) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694566)

ATI and NVidia are, by the twisted logic you're using, already more open than this! They ship full drivers with source code for ABI compatibility layers. Theo didn't get them to open up at all, all he got was a license for free redistribution of a chunk of data they hadn't previously allowed distributed.

Re:Theo (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694628)

Except Linus has a reputation for NOT being an asshole, simply because he doesn't care.

Re:Theo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10695031)

Theo is the McBain of Interfield.

Re:Theo (1)

gorim (700913) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695143)

Honestly, I think it shows a lack of class on his part.

Ok, for those who already modded me a troll in other postings on this topic, I want to point out the difference to you: this one right here that I just wrote is a troll. The other postings were honest questions and issues that don't deserve to be modded to oblivion just because you disagree with the premise.

what's with 'related links' ? (4, Funny)

ch-chuck (9622) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694137)

comparison shop for 'your rights online' ? wtf???

That's like the old Lycos at one time put in this automated advertising thing, so you search for libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 and it comes back with "Find bargains on libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 at Amazon.com!", "See what people are saying about libstdc++-devel-3.2.2-5 on movietalk.com!"

Re:what's with 'related links' ? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694876)

it was even worse when you tried some not-ver-politicaly-correct-isms.

Find great bargains on black people at amazon.com!

Read reviews from people who bought black people at cnet.com!

Automation is a good thing.. it reminds us (daily) why people should not and can not be replaced by computers.

biznatc4 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694202)

is it just me.... (2, Informative)

revery (456516) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694254)

or has BSD been getting a heck of a lot of stories [slashdot.org] on [slashdot.org] the [slashdot.org] main [slashdot.org] page [slashdot.org] lately

It's like they haven't been listening to the trolls [wikipedia.org] at [hiro-tan.org] all [daemonnews.org]

--

I write stuff [livejournal.com] , but not that well and not that often...

it's not just you (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694557)

If the BSD community can be the ones to spur off efforts to free up firmware licensing then they deserve all the press mentions they get I'd say.

This is what I'm gonna do. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694292)

First; Write your letter to the hardware company.
Second; Sign the above mentioned petition.
Third; Only buy hardware from companies that are OSS friendly, that make good products for which they do not rely on disabling the expensive features in software.
Forth; Send a(nother) letter to the hardware company that makes the devices that you would have preferred to buy, and tell them why you didn't buy it.

Re:This is what I'm gonna do. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694357)

Fifth; Rape a goat like the fucktard that I am.

Open driver distribution won't work (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10694329)

The only thing that's going to be open is America's gaping asshole after John Kerry forcible ass rapes us on Nov 2.

Slashdot - force for harassment (3, Insightful)

gorim (700913) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694360)


Its really nice that people who run slashdot themselves now encourage corporate harassment and activist measures by posting people's names and email addresses.

Whats next ? Posting email addresses of likely Presidental voters to get them to switch to Slashdot's favored candidate ?

Re:Slashdot - force for harassment TROLL ??? (1)

gorim (700913) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695039)

Nice I was modded a troll. It was an honest question about what I think is a real issue with original posting article.

Is Slashdot now intending to extend the /. effect to peoples mailboxes ?

A person's name and email was posted in the text of the slashdot topic. I am not referring to the original article linked, which of course it is too, but in the actual slashdot posting. This is quite frankly, a sad state of affairs that this would be done.

What the hell were they thinking?! (5, Funny)

FyRE666 (263011) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694816)

Honestly, why would someone submit this to Slashdot? I mean, they've managed to submit hundreds of "well written" messages to vendors, and now they're about to fuck it all up by encouraging the illiterate, and largely uninformed masses here to send in their own special brands of wisdom.... Then there's the goatse fans, tubgirl gang, "BSD is dying" trolls and other shining stars of the forum just waiting to get in on the fun... ... oh well, it could have worked ;-)

More Companies Are Needed (2, Interesting)

ssimontis (739660) | more than 9 years ago | (#10694957)

This is great. I hope several companies agree. It will be hard to get Linksys to agree, if they try. Linksys will not do anything about it. I have written to them three times about it, and gotten bullshit each time saying that they might be working on drivers for other OSes. The more companies we get the better. Wireless support is the only issue stopping me from using BSD or Linux.

"You have 1,000,000 new messages" (4, Funny)

IgD (232964) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695055)

Here is the reply I got when e-mailing him:

"This is an automatic reply.
I will be away from the office on business in Europe from 12n Monday 11/1 through Friday 11/5. During this time, there may be a delay responding to your email. /b"

I wonder what his expression will be on Monday when he checks his e-mail...

Activism Shows Drivers Can Be Freed (1, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695088)

I want to break free
I want to break free
I want to break free from your lies
You're so self satisfied I don't need you
I've got to break free
God knows God knows I want to break free

---
Shit, I hope so, driving is a bitch in Toronto, I don't know what I would do if it was shown that drivers could not be freed. I say: Free Drivers, Free Drivers!

Firmware is not drivers (4, Informative)

iabervon (1971) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695215)

This is about firmware, which is code which gets sent to the device and helps the device work. These are not drivers, which you run on your processor. Typically, firmware is written either for some weird variant of C, or for a completely non-sequential language (for FPGAs). You'd probably have a really hard time compiling it if you had the source. One set of firmware I know of only builds with a particular non-current version of a $10K/seat commercial compiler; this isn't unusual. Furthermore, they're often signed, if only to keep people from messing up their hardware by loading a broken version into it.

In any case, these aren't programs for your computer, and it is merely a matter of convenience that they aren't sealed into the device at the factory (so you can update them without sending the device back). It doesn't make any more sense to want the source for the firmware for your NIC than it would be to ask for the source to the firmware for your microwave.

Previously, the firmware was only available from the manufacturers directly, and licensed such that you weren't supposed to redistribute it. OpenBSD people complained that making people go online to update their NIC so that it works is a bit annoying, and that they'd like to be able to get it from OpenBSD, whose CD they would be getting and who would be happy to download the firmware for them.

Re:Firmware is not drivers (2, Insightful)

drfreak (303147) | more than 9 years ago | (#10695503)

These are not drivers, which you run on your processor.

True, but the firmware is still needed in order for the driver to do it's job. The issue is not about the public having access to firmware source code, the issue is that these developers need to be able to re-distribute the firmware binaries in order for their drivers to work "out of the box." From what I can see in reading the emails, these licenses are too restrictive for the developers to feel safe in re-distributing them. One of the replies I read from Intel seemed like it was saying they do not mind redistribution, but interpreted the letter sent to them as a plea to change the binary license to be compatible with BSD. I think if there was more communication and less threats against the use of this hardware, a lot more might get done. For the above example, maybe just asking for clarification in writing about permission to re-distribute the firmare binaries would solve the problem?

This reminds me of the majority of distributions that refuse to bundle proprietary video card drivers with their CDs because they do not think they can. Both NVidia and ATI have no problem with the re-distribution of their drivers. NVidia even gives the option of repackaging the driver already compiled for your own custom kernel, and gives a command-line option for their .run installer to do so.

Is there not a happy medium we can reach here? Do we absolutely need to be balking at licenses that allow us to integrate these products in our distributions just because they do not allow us to make modifications?

It's Linus fault (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#10695487)

...for being such a stubborn person. He might not care but that us, users who pay the price.
I hope that one day he opens his eyes and see how much damage he's done. Jemiara
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